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City-states of the Fertile Crescent in the 2nd millennium BCE

The Fertile Crescent is a region in Western Asia. It includes the comparatively fertile regions of Mesopotamia and the Levant, delimited by the dry climate of the Syrian Desert to the south and the Anatolian highlands to the north. The region is often considered the cradle of civilization, saw the development of many of the earliest human civilizations, and is the birthplace of writing and the wheel.

The term "Fertile Crescent" was coined by University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted in his Ancient Records of Egypt, first published in 1906.[1] The region was so named due to its rich soil and crescent shape.

Modern-day countries with significant territory within the Fertile Crescent are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, besides the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringe of Iran.

Contents

Geography

As crucial as rivers were to the rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, they were not the only factor in the area's precocity. The area is important as the "bridge" between Africa and Eurasia. This "bridging role" has allowed the Fertile Crescent to retain a greater amount of biodiversity than either Europe or North Africa, where climate changes during the Ice Age led to repeated extinction events due to ecosystems becoming squeezed against the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Coupled with the Saharan pump theory, this Middle Eastern land-bridge is of extreme importance to the modern distribution of Old World flora and fauna, including the spread of humanity.

The fact that this area has borne the brunt of the tectonic divergence between the African and Arabian plates, and the converging Arabian and Eurasian plates, has also made this region a very diverse zone of high snow-covered mountains, fertile broad alluvial basins and desert plateau, which has also increased its biodiversity further and enabled the survival into historic times of species not found elsewhere.

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Climate and vegetation

The Fertile Crescent had a diverse climate, and major climatic changes encouraged the evolution of many "r" type annual plants, which produce more edible seeds than "K" type perennial plants. The region's dramatic variety of elevation gave rise to many species of edible plants for early experiments in cultivation. Most importantly, the Fertile Crescent possessed the wild progenitors of the eight Neolithic founder crops important in early agriculture (i.e. wild progenitors to emmer wheat, einkorn, barley, flax, chick pea, pea, lentil, bitter vetch), and four of the five most important species of domesticated animals—cows, goats, sheep, and pigs—and the fifth species, the horse, lived nearby.[2]

As a result the Fertile Crescent has an impressive record of past human activity. As well as possessing many sites with the skeletal and cultural remains of both pre-modern and early modern humans (e.g. at Kebara Cave in Israel), later Pleistocene hunter-gatherers and Epipalaeolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers (the Natufians), this area is most famous for its sites related to the origins of agriculture. The western zone around the Jordan and upper Euphrates rivers gave rise to the first known Neolithic farming settlements (referred to as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)), which date to around 9,000 BCE (and includes sites such as Jericho). This region, alongside Mesopotamia (which lies to the east of the Fertile Crescent, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates), also saw the emergence of early complex societies during the succeeding Bronze Age. There is also early evidence from this region for writing, and the formation of statelevel societies. This has earned the region the nickname "The Cradle of Civilization."

Both the Tigris and Euphrates start in the Taurus Mountains of what is today Turkey. Farmers in southern Mesopotamia had to protect their fields from flooding each year, except Northern Mesopotamia which had just enough rain to make some farming possible.[3]

Since the Bronze Age, the region's natural fertility has been greatly extended by irrigation works, upon which much of its agricultural production continues to depend. The last two millennia have seen repeated cycles of decline and recovery as past works have fallen into disrepair through the replacement of states, to be replaced under their successors. Another ongoing problem has been salination — gradual concentration of salt and other minerals in soils with a long history of irrigation.

In the contemporary era, river waters remain a potential source of friction in the region. The Jordan lies on the borders of Israel, the kingdom of Jordan and the areas administered by the Palestinian Authority. Turkey and Syria each control about a quarter of the river Euphrates, on whose lower reaches Iraq is heavily dependent.

Cosmopolitan diffusion

Modern analyses[4][5] comparing 24 craniofacial measurements reveal a predominantly cosmopolitan population within the pre-Neolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age Fertile Crescent,[4] supporting the view that a diverse population of peoples occupied this region during these time periods.[4] In particular, evidence demonstrates a strong Sub-Saharan African presence within the region, especially among the Epipalaeolithic Natufians of Israel.[4][6][7][8][9][10] Similar arguments do not hold true, however, for the Basques and Canary Islanders of the same time period, as the studies demonstrate those ancient peoples to be "clearly associated with modern Europeans."[4] Additionally no evidence from the studies demonstrates Cro-Magnon influences, contrary to former suggestions.[4]

The studies further suggest a diffusion of this diverse population away from the Fertile Crescent, with the early migrants moving away from the Near East —— westward into Europe and North Africa, northward to Crimea, and eastward to Mongolia.[4] They took their agricultural practices with them and interbred with the hunter-gatherers whom they subsequently came in contact with while perpetuating their farming practices. This supports prior genetic[11][12][13][14][15] and archaeological[4][16][17][18][19][20] studies which have all arrived at the same conclusion.

Consequently contemporary in-situ peoples absorbed the agricultural way of life of those early migrants who ventured out of the Fertile Crescent. This is contrary to the suggestion that the spread of agriculture disseminated out of the Fertile Crescent by way of sharing of knowledge.[4] Instead the view now supported by a preponderance of the evidence is that it occurred by actual migration out of the region, coupled with subsequent interbreeding with indigenous local populations whom the migrants came in contact with.[4]

The studies show also that not all present day Europeans share strong genetic affinities to the Neolithic and Bronze Age inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent;[4] instead the closest ties to the Fertile Crescent rest with Southern Europeans.[4] The same study further demonstrates all present day Europeans to be closely related.[4]

References

  1. ^ "Fertile Crescent". Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press. 2008. http://education.yahoo.com/reference/encyclopedia/entry/FertileC. Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  2. ^ Diamond, J. (March 1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03891-2. 
  3. ^ Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black, Larry S. Krieger, Phillip C. Naylor, Dahia Ibo Shabaka, (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell. ISBN 0-395-87274-X. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m C. Loring Brace, Noriko Seguchi, Conrad B. Quintyn, Sherry C. Fox, A. Russell Nelson, Sotiris K. Manolis, and Pan Qifeng, "The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form," in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (Jan. 3, 2006). Vol. 103, No. 1, pp. 242-247. [1] doi: 10.1073/pnas.0509801102
  5. ^ F. X. Ricaut, M. Waelkens, "Cranial Discrete Traits in a Byzantine Population and Eastern Mediterranean Population Movements," in Human Biology, Wayne State University Press (Aug. 2008). Vol. 80, Issue 5, pp. 535-564. [2] doi: 10.3378/1534-6617-80.5.535
  6. ^ Barker G (2002) Transitions to farming and pastoralism in North Africa, in Bellwood P, Renfrew C (2002), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis, pp 151–161.
  7. ^ Bar-Yosef O (1987) Pleistocene connections between Africa and SouthWest Asia: an archaeological perspective. The African Archaeological Review; Chapter 5, pg 29-38
  8. ^ Kislev ME, Hartmann A, Bar-Yosef O (2006) Early domesticated fig in the Jordan Valley. Nature 312:1372–1374.
  9. ^ Lancaster, Andrew (2009). "Y Haplogroups, Archaeological Cultures and Language Families: a Review of the Multidisciplinary Comparisons using the case of E-M35". Journal of Genetic Genealogy 5 (1). http://www.jogg.info/51/files/Lancaster.pdf. 
  10. ^ Findings include remains of food items carried to the Levant from Africa —— Parthenocarpic figs (please refer to prior reference: Kislev, Hartmann, Bar-Yosef, Nature, 2006) and Nile shellfish (please refer to Natufian culture#Long distance exchange).
  11. ^ Chicki, L; Nichols, RA; Barbujani, G; Beaumont, MA. 2002. Y genetic data support the Neolithic demic diffusion model. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 99(17): 11008-11013.
  12. ^ Estimating the Impact of Prehistoric Admixture on the Genome of Europeans, Dupanloup et al., 2004
  13. ^ Origin, Diffusion, and Differentiation of Y-Chromosome Haplogroups E and J: Inferences on the Neolithization of Europe and Later Migratory Events in the Mediterranean Area, 2004
  14. ^ Paleolithic and Neolithic lineages in the European mitochondrial gene pool, Cavalli-Sforza 1997.
  15. ^ Clines of nuclear DNA markers suggest a largely Neolithic ancestry of the European gene, Chikhi 1997.
  16. ^ M. Zvelebil, in Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic Societies and the Transition to Farming, M. Zvelebil (editor), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK (1986) pp. 5-15, 167–188.
  17. ^ P. Bellwood, First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Blackwell: Malden, MA (2005).
  18. ^ M. Dokládal, J. Brožek, Curr. Anthropol. 2 (1961) pp. 455–477.
  19. ^ O. Bar-Yosef, Evol. Anthropol. 6 (1998) pp. 159–177.
  20. ^ M. Zvelebil, Antiquity 63 (1989) pp. 379–383.

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Contents

English

The extent of the Fertile Crescent.

Etymology

Coined by University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted.

Pronunciation

  • (RP) IPA: /ˈfɜːtaɪl ˈkrɛsənt/
  • (US) IPA: /ˈfɝːtəl ˈkrɛsənt/

Proper noun

Singular
Fertile Crescent

Plural
-

Fertile Crescent

  1. (Ancient History) A crescent-shaped strip of fertile land stretching from present-day Iraq through eastern Turkey and down the Syrian and Israeli coasts.

Translations


Simple English


The Fertile Crescent is a historical region in the Middle East that includes the Levant, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. These countries on a map together have a shape that is similar to a crescent, so archaeologist James Henry Breasted spoke of the "Fertile Crescent" because he wanted to show the similarities of the cultures of this region in ancient times.

All these lands are watered by important rivers: Nile, Jordan, Euphrates and Tigris. Together they cover some 400-500,000 square kilometers, and the region extends from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea around the north of the Syrian Desert and through the Jazirah and Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf. These areas are in present-day Egypt, Israel, West Bank, Gaza strip, and Lebanon and parts of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, south-eastern Turkey and south-western Iran. The population of the Nile River basin is about 70 million, the Jordan River basin about 20 million, and the Tigris and Euphrates basins about 30 million, giving the present-day Fertile Crescent a total population of around 120 million, or at least a quarter of the population of the Middle East.

The Fertile Crescent has a very long record of past human activity.

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